In my family, a good story is king. When I was a kid, my father used to sit on our front porch with men from our neighborhood, smoke cigars, and tell stories. Recently, I asked one our our neighbors about those nights. “Man, we loved hearing your dad’s stories about the army” he said. “ About when he was in ranger school, and when he was stationed in Germany. He’s got so many great stories!” He’s right. My father’s stories were filled with colorful characters. When he was in college at Norwich University, he had friends with names like “Panther Piss”. He was stationed in Germany for years. He had a German girlfriend named Renata. He went to something called The Officer’s Club.
In October of 2012, I went to The Moth Story SLAM. I got up in front of an audience and I told a story of my own. I had told it before. It was a story about the reckless aftermath of the break-up of my five year relationship. I had told it in bars over drinks with friends but now I stood on a stage with my shaky hand holding a beer and I told it to a room full of strangers. It was exhilarating and strangely intimate. I was hooked.
The Moth Story SLAM is one of the three dozen plus storytelling shows happening across the city of Chicago. The shows vary in style and structure and reflect the broad range of storytellers they showcase. There are shows that are highly structured and others take on an open mic form. Some are based on a theme or they may require tellers to read from a text. There are late night shows meant for bawdy tales and the admission of sin. There are shows that you can bring your parents to and they will be so impressed at your knowledge of such an uplifting and cultured event. There are shows held for two dozen people in the back rooms of bars, coffee shops, and bookstores. There are shows held in theaters for hundreds of people.
Storytelling is big in Chicago and the reason for it should not be a mystery. We are all storytellers. Yes, the performance part can freak people out but the telling is something we do every day. We tell them to each other all day long. Secret stories, dirty stories, love stories and hard-knock lesson stories. Our friendships and romantic lives form from the telling of them and our families are defined by them. So when you attend a storytelling show, you get to peek into the windows of a house that is not yours and more often than not, you see something similar to what is in your home and in your life. It’s the similarities that make you and the storyteller not feel like strangers and it’s the differences that get you thinking about stories of your own.
I know I’ve been to a great show when I leave it a little heartsick. A great show features stories that get you to laugh, cringe, sigh, cry, and think. A great story can be about the an event that altered the course of the storytellers life or about a quiet moment spent with someone he once loved. The honesty and authenticity of the teller makes those small stories resonate and fill the room and those larger than life stories feel relatable and close. I could not believe how close I felt to those who listened to me when I told my first story for an audience. They are not there to see you perform–they are there to listen to you tell the truth. We all tell stories. Check on some of these fantastic shows, listen to some stories, and you may be inspired to tell your own.
This Much is True–Held the second Tuesday of every month at Mrs. Murphy & Sons Irish Bistro in Northcenter. Stories start at 7:30 pm. Free.
Seven Deadly Sins–Held the second Tuesday of every month at Cafe Mustache in Logan Square. Stories start at 8:00. Free.
The Moth Story SLAM–Held the second Monday of every month at Haymarket Pub and Brewery in the West Loop and the last Tuesday of the month at Martyr’s in Northcenter. Stories start at 8:00. $8
That’s All She Wrote–Held the second Sunday of of every month at Swim Cafe in Noble. Stories start at 8:00. Free. BYOB.
Story Club–Held the first Thursday of every month at Holiday Club in Uptown. Stories start at 8:00. Free.
Here’s the Story–Held the first Sunday of every month at Stage 773 in Lakeview. Stories start at at 8:00. $8 or Free with a dish for the audience potluck. ***Reserve ticket in advance.
Stoop Style Stories–Held the fourth Thursday of every month at Rosa’s Lounge in Humbolt Park. Stories start at 8:00. Free.
These shows are only a small slice of the storytelling shows held every month across the city of Chicago. Check out “The Chicago Storytelling and Live Lit Events Page” on Facebook for more information about upcoming shows.
Erin is an avid reader, struggling writer, mediocre improviser, and cinephile. In October of 2012, she told her first story for an audience at NPR’s The Moth StorySLAM. She is passionate about creating a community of storytelling that is accessible to all.
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